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Martin Špegelj
Martin Špegelj 2011
2nd Minister of Defence of Croatia

In office
24 August 1990 – 2 July 1991
President Franjo Tudjman
Prime Minister Stjepan Mesić
Josip Manolić
Preceded by Petar Kriste
Succeeded by Šime Đodan
Personal details
Born 11 November 1927(1927-11-11) (age 95)
Stari Gradac near Pitomača, Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Political party Croatian Democratic Union
Military service
Allegiance Yugoslavia
Service/branch Yugoslav Ground Forces
Croatian Armed Forces
Years of service 1941–1989
Rank Colonel General (YPA)
General of the Army (HV)
Commands Commander of 5th Army District YPA
Croatian Defence Minister
Chief of General Staff HV
Battles/wars World War II
Croatian War of Independence

Martin Špegelj (born 11 November 1927) was the second Defense Minister of Croatia and, later, the chief of staff of the newborn Croatian army and inspector-general of the army. His efforts to organize and equip the army from scratch were seen as instrumental in helping Croatia survive the first year of the Croatian War of Independence. Partly due to disagreements with president Franjo Tuđman, he retired in 1992, after the war froze with the permanent ceasefire at the end of 1991.

Early life[]

Martin Spegelj was born 11 November 1927 in Stari Gradac, Pitomača. He was a partisan soldier during World War II. Eventually, he rose to became General of the 5th Yugoslav Army (JNA) Army District based in Zagreb, Croatia.

After the first free elections in Croatia, he was second Defence Minister. Špegelj was one of the few in the top leadership of Croatia who saw the impending war as unavoidable. Together with the Slovenian command, Špegelj formulated a joint defence plan in case either country was attacked by the JNA.

Špegelj Tapes[]

At the onset of the war in Croatia in mid-1990, the Croatian Serbs orchestrated an armed rebellion (known as the Log Revolution), refusing to accept Croatian government authority. As they were supported by the might of the JNA (first covertly, then openly), Croatia was virtually defenceless, so Špegelj undertook a campaign of acquiring arms through the black market community, importing weapons from former Warsaw Pact countries like Hungary and Romania.

He was caught on tape in 1991 talking to an assistant who was actually an undercover KOS (Communist Yugoslav counter-intelligence service) operative. In the conversations, Špegelj talks of arming Croatians in preparation for secession of Croatia and the impending civil war.[1] The so-called Špegelj tapes were turned into a documentary film by Zastava military film center, and aired in January 1991 to the larger Yugoslav public. They were made public in order to bolster the attack of the Belgrade government against the newly elected Croatian government.[2]

The Croatian leadership, including the main "actors" themselves, initially quickly dismissed the tapes as fake, claiming that the presumably innocuous videotaped conversations were subsequently dubbed. Their authenticity, however, was later all but confirmed, and Stipe Mesić, the president of Croatia, was one of the first on Croatian side who admitted that parts of the tapes are probably authentic, although he claimed some of the sentences were taken out of context.[Clarification needed] Most of the tape has audio garbled and the text subtitled and read by a narrator, so the accuracy of the tape is in question.

The JNA leadership in Belgrade wanted Špegelj to face trial for treason for this. As a result of the affair, and to calm tensions, Tuđman dismissed him from his post. Fearing for his life, Špegelj fled to Austria where he remained for several months.


  • As for border posts, when border posts are disarmed, then they will be disarmed, all of them, as many as there are, but leave Albanians five bullets in their automatic rifles, and the rest locked up in cellars and given food and water if this goes on for a few days. As for this, if something happens, then just give instructions to all your people who you know. Kill extremists on the spot, in the street, in the compound, in barracks, anywhere. Just pistol and into the stomach. That will not be a war, it will be a civil war in which there is no mercy towards anyone, women or children, that doesn't concern us. Into homes, family homes, quite simply grenades. (Špegelj)
  • We are going to resort to all resources. We're even going to use weapons. Knin we're going to resolve in the same way. We are going to slaughter everyone. We have international recognition for that that we're going to slaughter them now that this whore won in Serbia. Now the Americans, on the second day when he won, offered us all assistance, and until then everyone was speculating, they would, they wouldn't, this way, that way, 1,000 combat vehicles." (Špegelj)
  • We are going to use all resources. We're going to use weapons as well. Serbs in Croatia will never be there again for as long as we are there and we hope until now too their supremacy is a thing of the past. Their Knin will never be Knin again. We are going to enter Knin too. Knin has to disappear as Knin. All Croats should bear this in mind and we are going to create a state created at all costs, if necessary, at the cost of shedding blood. (Boljkovac)

Return to Croatia[]

Considering the rising tensions and the fall of first deaths of the impending war, Špegelj was persuaded to return to Croatia to become the chief of staff of the new army that was in the process of forming.

When the Slovenian War occurred in June 1991, Špegelj advocated activating the joint defence plan, which would put Croatia into war against the JNA by attacking its army barracks in Croatia (Špegelj's plan). However, Tuđman feared confrontation and refused to support the Slovenians.

Špegelj was then made inspector-general of the Croatian army, replaced partly due to his disagreements with Tuđman.

Only several months later, full scale war broke out, and Špegelj's plan for attacking JNA's army barracks in Croatia was implemented and resulted in the Battle of the barracks, bringing much needed heavy weapons to Croatia.

The war in Croatia entered a phase of lower intensity after the signing of a UN-brokered ceasefire at the start of the 1992. Špegelj then officially retired.

Post-war and criticism[]

Following the war, Špegelj became a fierce critic of Tuđman's politics, accusing him and his followers of war profiteering. In 2001, he published his autobiography in which he was very critical of the Tuđman's HDZ and its political maneuverings, which he argues needlessly escalated the war. He also accused them of supporting Bosnian Croat separatism which led to their conflict with the Bosniaks during the Bosnian War.

Špegelj was in turn criticized by pro-Tuđman elements of the Croatian military, notably Davor Domazet-Lošo who considers that the June 1991 Slovenian War was just an excuse to draw Croatia into the conflict.[3] He considers Špegelj's plan to have been a trap for Croatia, which seems dubious considering the eventual battle of the barracks resulted in Croatia gaining about 10% of JNA's military might: including many hundred tanks, armored personnel carriers and heavy artillery pieces, of which Croatia had next to none to start with.This actions led to murders of federal JNA soldiers and military reactions like Battle of Vukovar.


  1. "The Prosecutor v. Slobodan Milošević - Witness Branko Kostić examined by Mr. Milošević". International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. 25 January 2006. Retrieved 13 August 2010. "Page 47621 onwards" 
  2. Renaud de la Brosse (2003-02-04). "Political Propaganda and the Plan to Create a "State for all Serbs" - Consequences of Using the Media for Ultra-Nationalist Ends - Part 3" (PDF). Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Retrieved 28 October 2010. "Whether or not it was true, the video, broadcast twice the same evening, created the desired effect, that is an electric shock in Serbian public opinion which thus saw the confirmation of the intrinsically evil nature of the authorities in Zagreb..." 
  3. Domazet-Lošo, Davor (2002). Hrvatska i Veliko Ratište [Croatia and the Great Battlefield]. Zagreb, Croatia: St. George Association. ISBN 953-96313-0-0. 
  • Špegelj, Martin: Sjećanje Vojnika (Memories of a Soldier), 2001
Political offices
Preceded by
Petar Kriste
Croatian Minister of Defence
August 24, 1990 – July 2, 1991
Succeeded by
Šime Đodan

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